Friday, March 30, 2012

Lyrics & Meanings Of The Ghanaian Song "Sansa Kroma"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post is Part I of a two part series on the Ghanaian children's game song "Sansa Kroma". The title "Sansa Kroma" is also given as "Sansa Akroma".

Part 1 of this series provides several text (lyric) examples of that song, information about the song's meaning/s, and information about how the song was traditionally performed in Ghana.

Part II of this series features selected videos of choirs singing "Sansa Kroma". Click for Part II of this series.

Example #1:
"Sansa Kroma" is an Akan language, children's game song. Here are the words to this song from Let Your Voice Be Heard! Songs from Ghana and Zimbabwe by Kobena Adzenyah, Dumisani Maraire and Judith Cook Tucker (World Music Press, 1967):

Sansa kroma
Ne na woo aw
Che che kokoma
According to those authors, the correct pronunciation for those words are: "sah-sah kroh-mah nee nay woo aw-chay chay koh-koh mah"
A blogger on the American education site [Hereafter given as Kroma] shared the following information about "Sansa Kroma" from that above mentioned book:

"I think probably the most authentic source for the [Sansa Kroma] song is Let Your Voice Be Heard! Songs from Ghana and Zimbabwe by Adzenyah, Maraire, and Tucker (the first 2 authors were born in Africa, the 3rd one is an expert on world music). The words are in the Akan language (one of several languages spoken in Ghana) and the phonetic pronunciation given in this book is:

sah-sah kroh-mah nee nay woo aw-chay chay koh-koh mah

The "n" sound in Sansa is not pronounced. I have seen this song a couple other places and the pronunciation has been listed as the same.

The translation for these words is "Sansa, the hawk. You are an orphan, and so you snatch up baby chicks." The book says:
"Akan children singing this song are reminded that if anything happend to their parents and they became orphans, they would not have to wander alone, frantically trying to provide for their own needs. They would be taken in by a relative or a family in their village."

This version is a playground song. The instructions for the game are:
"A rock is passed around the circle on the ground, according to one of two possible patterns. In the first pattern the rock is grabbed on the first beat and passed low to the ground to the right on the third beat of each measure. [grab, pass] In the second the child taps the rock on the ground on the first and third beat of the first measure. In the next measure the rock is passed on the first beat followed by a clap on the third beat. [tap, tap, pass, clap] This pattern is repeated." It also gives some instructions for clapping patterns, different ways to perform the song, and dancing to the song."

Here's another note from that book:
"Kwasi Aduonum includes a variant of Sansa Kroma called "Sansa Akroma" in his dissertation, a wonderful collection of Ghanian folktale songs. He classifies the song the song as a mmoguo song - a "song interlude" to be used by the audience or narrator at any point during the telling of a story which seems related in some way to the idea of thsi song. In his version, a baby male eagle chases fowl instead of attending his own mother's funeral, because he thought he had to eat before going to the funeral, if he hoped to eat at all. Aduonum writes "this is a teasing song referring to those who are truant and who do not give proper attention to events or duties which need to be given a priority."

As you can see, Let Your Voice Be Heard! is a very valuable resource if you are teaching about African music (this is just the info given for ONE song! and it has lots of great background info on Ghana and Zimbabwe and African music in general.)...

As for different versions... this is just the nature of folksongs in general. Usually the older a song is, the more variants on the song there are (a really old ballad or sea chantey might have a dozen different versions if you look hard enough), like a "whisper down the lane" effect because the songs are passed on through the aural tradition over sometimes hundreds of years in different areas of a country. Most of them weren't put into musical notation till sometime in the late 19th to early 20th century when folksong collectors like Childs, the Lomaxes, or the Seegers started to do this to preserve the music for posterity. Think of all the different versions of American folk songs and singing games like "Little Sally Water," "Tideo," or even "The Wheels on the Bus." One of the defining characterisitcs of a folk song is that it is mutable -the written versions we find are just ONE snapshot of the song collected by one folksong collector/musicologist in one place and time."
-Last edited by Christine Nowmos (2008-09-23 08:19:47)

Example #2
"Sansa kroma is an African folk song. The lyrics mean:
Sansa : A name
Kroma : Hawk
Ne na wuo : You were orphaned
O kye kyer : Orphan
Nko ko MBA : To snatch up chicks

It is to be entrepretated [sic] as a children's song used to comfort the children from Ghana. It basically says, you're lucky you are not an orphan. And you are lucky someone feeds you, and you don't have to fend for yourself. It is a very lovely and entertaining song."
[This information was not attributed to ID2926647834. No date was given for this comment.]

I believe that the lyrics given above are pronounced the same as those given in Example #1, but the spelling conforms more closely to the way those sounds are spelled in the Akan language. Click for my post on the Akan children's song "Che Che Kule" for examples of same "Kye kye" spelling of the sounds "che che" (chay chay).

Example #3
Sansa Kroma
Nene yo keke kokomba (x3)

Sansa (4)

Sansa Kroma
Nene yo keke Kokomba



It's a playground song, which is sung back and forth when playing games like 'tag'.
The hawk chases the chick, but friends save the chick from the hawk.
-alisonleejones, , 2010 [Hereafter given as Sansa Kroma- Christmas 2007]

Example #4
[This was written in response to the lyrics given here as Example #3]:

No it's not! It's

Sansa Kroma
Nene who
a cha cha kokoma
-passionsinging101, 2010 [Sansa Kroma- Christmas 2007]

Reply to passionsinging101:
these are the traditional lyrics. Listening to the choir, yes - I see it matches what you have here.
-alisonleejones, 2010 Sansa Kroma- Christmas 2007]

Example #5

Lyrics: sansa kroma ne na woo aw che che kokoma

Pronunciation: Sansa kroma (se se kromah) se se “e” as in bed

ne na woo (nee nay woo; woo as in boo)

aw che che kokoma – e as in bed; chay chay (ay as in hay); kokomah
The statement that the correct pronunciation for the word "woo" in the Akan song "Sansa Kroma" may be inaccurate. As shown in this post, the word "woo" is also given as "wuo" and "yo". For various reasons, including its inclusion in the chants and prayers given in R. S. Rattray's 1923 classic book The Ashantis, my sense is that "yo" is probably the most accurate Akan spelling of that word/sound. But how is "woo"/"wuo"/"yo" pronounced?

Out of the five videos that are showcased in Part II of this series, I've heard the word "woo" ("wuo", "yo") pronounced like "boo" in Videos #3 and #5. I also heard that word pronounced very much like the English word "hoard but without the "d" ending in Video #1 in Part II.

A comment by a video viewer who wrote on two different video comment threads about those choirs' pronunciation of the word "woo"/"wuo"/"yo" suggests to me that this commenter knows how to speak Akan - a language I unfortunately don't speak or read.

On the viewer comment thread for the video which I abritarily assigned the number 3, that commenter wrote:

"...But its accutally pronounsed w (o) now 00like woohoo you know. Thats the right ot pronounse
-1iloveyoutoo, 2010,
I think "now" is a typo for "not".

And on the video which I arbitrarily assigned the number #4, that same commenter wrote:
"...And your the ONLY ones who have sang it right. all the other people say wuu and its annoying."
-1iloveyoutoo, 2010

Actually, out of the five videos I posted of "Sansa Kroma", in two of those videos- Video #2 and Video #4 - the choirs sang what sounds like "woh" (the same as the English word "whoa") to me. The English word "whoa" rhymes with the English word "sew" as in the familiar American saying "Whoa, Nellie!"). I'd love to know which pronounciation is the correct one for this Akan word. If you know that language, please post which is the correct way to say that word. Thanks!

I very much agree with Christine Nowmos's quoted above that because "Sansa Kroma" is a folk song, it is to be expected that there are different versions of that song, including different arrangements, different tempos, and different ways that it is sung (for instance, in unison, call & response, and as a round). That said, from a folkloric perspective, I believe that it would be helpful and interesting to know more about this song. For instance, when was "Sansa Kroma" first documented? One commenter in a YouTube viewer comment thread wrote that indicates her grandmother remembers this song [presumably] from Ghana in the 1930s. Is there any other documentation that precedes that date? It appears from the YouTube videos of "Sansa Kroma" that many arrangements of this song are sung "in the round"; ("A round is a musical composition in which two or more voices sing exactly the same melody (and may continue repeating it indefinitely), but with each voice beginning at different times so that different parts of the melody coincide in the different voices, but nevertheless fit harmoniously together". Presumably, singing this Akan song that way is a Western adaptation. But were the earliest versions of this song sung in unison or in a call & response pattern, or both? Also, since most versions of this song on YouTube are choral arrangements, I believe it's important to document that this song may have begun as a children's rock passing game song, and not a formal performance song.

Furthermore, I think it would be interesting to explore how this song has become as widely known as it appears to be in the USA and elsewhere, as evidenced by multiple YouTube videos of this song. The Let Your Voice Be Heard! Songs from Ghana and Zimbabwe book is probably one answer to that question. A blogger on that Kroma discussion thread mentioned that she may have learned "Sansa Kroma" from an education conference, and another blogger on that site added another piece to this puzzle (at least for the United States)

From Kroma
2008-09-22 22:22:03
I've heard it in the gr. 5 Silver Burdett Music book. They write the title as Sasa Akroma. The last "a" of Sasa and the first "A" of Akroma run together. The first 4 bars are: Sah, sah kroh mah, woh nay ah woh chay chay nkoh koh mah and 2nd line repeats with a different tune. Hope this helps."
Given this information, it seems to me that the Silver Burdett Music book may be the reason why music teachers mistakenly write the Akan word "sansa" as "sasa". Be aware both of those words are found in various African languages. For example, "sansa" is a South African (regional) generic name for the African thumb piano. Thumb pianos are also called "mbira", "kalimba" and other generic names throughout the huge continent of Africa. According to "The Akan, Other Africans, and The Sirius Star System" by K. Akwadapa (2008) [hereafter given as The Akan/pdf file], "sasa" is an Akan word that means "Spirit, nature Spirit". "Sasa" [same pronunciation "sah sah" is also a Swahili word that means "now", and shouldn't be confused with the Akan word "sansa". In the song "Sansa Kroma", "Sansa" is said to be a personal name. To date, I've been unable to find any etymological meaning for the Akan personal name "Sansa".

Could there be a symbolical meaning for the song "Sansa Kroma" beyond the widely reported meaning given to children that has been cited above?

I ask that question because in researching this post, I stumbled upon the following paper The Akan/pdf file part of whose content suggested to me that "Sansa Kroma" might have a deeper meaning.*

"The Akan/pdf" is an online paper about African mythology, etymology and related subjects. Note that this pdf file doesn't mention the song "Sansa Kroma" nor do I understand all of the points or "buy" all of the theories offered in that paper.

However, in the context of this post, what interested me was that the author of that paper, an Akan man, K. Akwadapa indicates that "the root word "koroma" in the Akan language means "falcon/hawk". K. Akwadapa also notes that the Bakamba people of South African refer to Egypt as "the land of the Sun-hawk or the Land of the Sun-eagle". If I understand him correctly, that author associates the symbology of the hawk/falcon among other African peoples to the symbology of the Eyptian god "Horus". He further notes the number of references in African mythology (and not just Egyptian mythology) to the falcon clan.
In addition, K. Akwadapa indicates that "the Akan have been described as 'the falcon people'. This is because the Ashantis* are led by the falcon clan and the Bono, who were the greatest and longest ruling Akan people and the percusors of the Asantes were ruled by the falcon clan" (pps. 19, 20) K. Akwadapa explains that the Akan name for the falcon clan is "Ayo-ko" (p. 21)
* The Ashantis (Asantes) are perhaps the population of the Akan who are best known throughout the world.

The website "Online Dictionary For The Twi Language of the Akan people Of Ghana, West Africa" provides information about the hawk, the falcon and other totems among the Akan people. Among the entries on that page are "Asakyiri abusua is represented by the hawk"; and "The falcon is the symbol of the Oyoko. It is also the family from which the Asantehene* comes".

In addition, that site provides the following summary of Akan beliefs about creation: "Aduana believe that at the time of creation, their ancestors descended from the skies on a golden chain. Others believe that they originally came from Asumanya and they were led by a duiker** with a flame in his mouth and gold in his cheeks. They proceeded to Dormaa where they believe the flame is still kept alight. Still others believe that from Asumanya a section of the Aduana headed for Akwamu"***.

** A duiker is a small sized antelope
*** A community/area in Ghana.

Of course, bird totems and creation beliefs that people on earth are descended from sky beings are quite common throughout the world. However, the fact that some of the Akan totems are hawks, and falcons prompted my speculation about possible symbolical meaning/s of the orphaned hawk in the "Sansa Kroma" children's game song. Perhaps that song does just mean what most people say it means: i.e. that Akan children were assured that if they were ever orphaned they wouldn't have to fend for themselves like the young hawk had to. Yet, even before I learned about the presence of hawk and falcon totems among the Akan, that meaning sounded "too pat" to me What do you think about it?

ADDED July 10, 2014 [I noticed that some people were searching for the meaning of the colloquial phrase "too pat". "Too pat" means
"An explanation or meaning seems to fit preconceived ideas or previously considered theories too perfectly (or too well)." Therefore, that explanation sounds fake.

Here's a definition for the colloquial use of the word "pat":
"Adv. 1. pat - completely or perfectly; "he has the lesson pat"; "had the system down pat" "

This concludes Part I of this series. Click for Part II of this series.

My thanks to all those whose writing I quoted.

Thanks to all those who visited this pancocojams page.

Viewer comments are welcome.


  1. My children are adopted from Ghana and all three of them are Ashanti. They all know this song. I have done the choral arrangement of "Sansa Kroma" by Felicia Sandler with choral groups before (I am a choral director), and when we were in Ghana I told some of the women in the salon where my daughter was having her hair done about it and they all started singing it- they said they were Akan and they knew it. They sang it differently and all had different variations of the words. One of my sons sings it and he also sings it a little differently. Twi has some different sounds in it that we are not accustomed to, which is why some of the sounds like the Wo doesn't sound like our western Woh. And it's difficult to duplicate or explain or sing as we would sing it- hearing them speak and sing the language. I love this little song.

    1. Thanks, Sarah Jane for sharing information about the Sansa Kroma song and the Twi language.

      I have briefly met a few Ghanaians, but didn't get an opportunity to learn very much about their language.

      Greetings to your children also!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks!!

      I'm glad you found this blog.

      By the way, did you happen to read the post & view the brief video of the song "Riding In A Buggy, Miss Mary Jane?"

      You could easily change the first name in that song and make it your own.


  3. ... wasn't useful -.- i was looking for the lyrics, not what they mean

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ashley.

      I'm interested in different versions of the lyrics and what those lyrics mean. I'm also interested in knowing which is the earliest form of this song in Ghana where this song originates.

  4. I play this song on my flute at el sistema I was just wondering what the whole song was.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Grace Oglesby.

      I appreciate it.

  5. Full lyrics in Akan:

    1. Thanks, Nyamfowa.

      However, I get an error message when I try to visit the site whose link you gave. Would you please check that url and write the correct one?

  6. you didnt post all the lyrics and some explanations given doesnt match the song

    1. Thanks for your comment anonymous:

      In response, I'll repost some sentences I wrote above:
      "I very much agree with Christine Nowmos's quoted above that because "Sansa Kroma" is a folk song, it is to be expected that there are different versions of that song, including different arrangements, different tempos, and different ways that it is sung (for instance, in unison, call & response, and as a round). That said, from a folkloric perspective, I believe that it would be helpful and interesting to know more about this song.."

  7. Thanks for this! We sang this in elementary school and I had no idea what the lyrics were beyond how to pronounce them. This blog post gave me all the info I needed and more!

    1. Thanks for your comment, anonymous.

      I'm glad that you found the information that I researched & presented in this post helpful.

      Best wishes!

  8. Thanks for the article. This is a song I am familiar with seeing as I am Akan. I would like to point out an issue I with Example 2 of the article.This is the bit I had an issue with:
    O kye kyer : Orphan
    Nko ko MBA : To snatch up chicks

    The entire sentence "O kye kyer nkokomba" means "he catches chicks" (this is the literal translation). "O" means "he" or "she" and "nkokomba" means "chicks". "Nkoko" means "Chickens" and "mba" means "children", so together, "nkokomba" means chicks.
    Also, it may interest you to know that 'Ne na wuo' literally means 'his parents are dead'.
    It was an interesting read, though!